The Leopard Woman by Stewart Edward White
Chapter XI. The Ivory Stockade
The Leopard Woman, emerging from her tent shortly after sunup the next morning, saw across the opening her own askaris being drilled by Kingozi, Simba, and Cazi Moto. Evidently the instruction was in rifle fire. Two were getting individual treatment: Simba and Cazi Moto were putting them through a careful course in aiming and pulling the trigger on empty guns. Kingozi sat on a chop box in the shade, gripping his eternal pipe, and issuing curt orders and criticisms to the baker's dozen, before him. When he saw the Leopard Woman he arose and strolled in her direction.
"That's the worst lot of so-called askaris I ever saw," he remarked. "Where did you pick them up?"
His manner was entirely unconscious of any discussions or dissentions. He looked into her eyes and smiled genially.
"I took them from the recruiting man, as they came," she replied. As always the deeps of her eyes were enigmatical; but the surfaces, at least, of her mood answered his.
"They know how to load a gun, and that is about all. I don't believe one of them ever fired a weapon before this trip. They haven't the most rudimentary ideas of aiming. Don't even know what sights are for. My boys will soon whip them into some sort of shape. I came over to see how much ammunition you have for their muskets. They really ought to fire a few rounds--after a week of aiming and snapping. Then they'll be of some use. Not much, though."
"I really don't know," she answered his question. "Chake will look and see."
"Send him over to report when he finds out," requested Kingozi, preparing to return.
"What move does your wisdom contemplate to-day?" she called after him.
"Oh, return his majesty's visit this afternoon. Like to go?"
"Well, I'll let you know when. And if you go, you must be content to stand two or three yards behind me, and to say nothing."
She flushed, but answered steadily enough:
It was nearing sundown when Kingozi emerged from his tent and gave the signal to move. He had for the first time strapped on a heavy revolver; his glasses hung from his neck; his sleeve was turned back to show his wrist watch; and, again for the first time, he had assumed a military- looking tunic. He carried his double rifle.
"Got on everything I own," he grinned.
Simba and Cazi Moto waited near. From the mysterious sources every native African seems to possess they had produced new hats and various trinkets. Their khakis had been fresh washed; so they looked neat and trim.
The Leopard Woman wore still one of her silken negligees, and the jewel on her forehead; but her hair had been piled high on her head. Kingozi surveyed her with some particularity. She noted the fact. Her satisfaction would have diminished could she have read his mind. He was thinking that her appearance was sufficiently barbaric to impress a barbaric king.
They rounded the point of cliffs, and the village lay before them. It rambled up the side of the mountain, hundreds of beehive houses perched and clinging, with paths from one to the other. The approach was through a narrow straight lane of thorn and aloes, so thick and so spiky that no living thing bigger than a mouse could have forced its way through the walls. The end of this vista was a heavy palisade of timbers through which a door led into a circular enclosure ten feet in diameter, on the other side of which another door opened into the village. Above each of these doors massive timbers were suspended ready to fall at the cut of a sword. Within the little enclosure, or double gate, squatted a man before a great drum.
"They're pretty well fixed here," observed Kingozi critically. "Nobody can get at them except down that lane. The mountains are impassable because of the thorn. They must use arrows."
"Why?" asked the Leopard Woman.
"The form of their defence. They shoot between the logs of the palisade down the narrow lane. If they fought only with spears, the lane would be shorter, and it would be defended on the flank."
"Why don't they defend it on the flank also, even with arrows?" asked the Leopard Woman shrewdly.
"'It is not the custom,'" wearily quoted Kingozi in the vernacular. "Don't ask me why a savage does things. I only know he does."
Their conversation was drowned by the sound of the drum.
The guardian did not beat it, but rubbed the head rapidly with the stick, modifying the pressure scientifically until the vibrations had well started. It roared hollowly, like some great bull.
The visitors passed through the defensive anteroom and entered the village enclosure.
On the flat below the hills, heretofore invisible, stood a half-dozen large houses. At the end, where the canon began to narrow, a fence gleamed dazzlingly white. From this distance the four-foot posts, planted in proximity like a stockade, looked to have been whitewashed.
People were appearing everywhere. The crags and points of the hills were filling with bold black figures silhouetted against the sky. Men, women, children, dogs sprang up, from the soil apparently. As though by magic the flat open space became animated. Plumed heads appeared above the white fence in the distance, where, undoubtedly, their owners had been loafing in the shade. Another drum began to roar somewhere, and with it the echoes began to arouse themselves in the hills.
Paying no attention to any of this interesting confusion Kingozi sauntered straight ahead. At his command the Leopard Woman had dropped a pace to the rear.
"The royal palace is behind the white fence," he volunteered over his shoulder.
They approached the sacred precincts. But while yet fifty yards distant, Kingozi stopped with an exclamation. He turned to the Leopard Woman, and for the first time she saw on his face and in his eyes a genuine and unconcealed excitement.
"My Lord!" he cried to her, "saw ever any man the likes of that!"
The white posts of which the fence was made were elephants' tusks!
"Kingdom coming, what a sight!" murmured Kingozi. "Why, there are hundreds and hundreds of them--and the smallest worth not less than fifty pounds!"
Her eyes answered him whole-heartedly, for her imagination was afire.
"What magnificence!" she replied. "The thought is great--a palace of ivory! This is kingly!"
But the light had died in Kingozi's eyes. "Won't do!" he muttered to her. "Compose your face. Come."
Without another glance at the magnificent tusks he marched on through the open gate.
Other drums, many drums, were roaring all about. The cliff of the canon was filled with sound that buffeted back and forth until it seemed that it must rise above the hills and overflow the world. A chattering and hurrying of people could be heard as an undertone.
The small enclosure was occupied by a dozen of the plumed warriors who had now snatched up emblazoned shield and polished spear; and stood rigidly at attention. Women of all ages crouched and squatted against the fence and the sides of a large wattle and thatch building.
Kingozi walked deliberately about, looking with detached interest at the various people and objects the corral contained. He had very much the air of a man sauntering idly about a museum, with all the time in the world on his hands, and nowhere much to go. Simba and Cazi Moto remained near the gate. The Leopard Woman, not knowing what else to do, trailed after him.
This continued for some time. At last her impatience overcame her.
"I suppose I may talk," said she resentfully. "How much longer must this go on? Why do not you make your call and have it over?"
"You do not know this game. Inside old Stick-in-the mud is waiting in all his grandeur. He expects me to go in to him. I am going to wait until he comes out to me. Prestige again."
Apparently without a care in the world, he continued his stroll. Small naked children ventured from hiding-places and stared. To some of these Kingozi spoke pleasantly with the immediate effect of causing them to scuttle back to cover. He examined minutely the tusks comprising the stockade. They had been arranged somewhat according to size, with the curve outward. Kingozi spent some time estimating them.
"Fortune here for some one," he observed.
At the end of an hour the sultani gave up the contest and appeared, smiling, unconcerned. The men greeted each other, exchanged a few words. Women emerged from the house carrying tembo in gourd bottles, and smaller half-gourds from which to drink it. Their eyes were large with curiosity as to this man and woman of a new species. Kingozi touched his lips to the tembo. They exchanged a few words, and shook hands again. Then Kingozi turned away, and, followed by the Leopard Woman and his two men, walked out through the ivory gateway, down through the open flat, under the fortified portal, and so down the lane of spiky walls. The drums roared louder and louder. Warriors in spear, shield, and plumed headdress stood rigid as they passed. People by the hundreds gazed at them openly, peered at them from behind doors, or looked down on them from the crags above. They rounded the corner of the cliff. Before them lay their own quiet peaceful camp. Only the voice of the drums bellowed as though behind them in the cleft of the hills some great and savage beast lay hid.
"That seemed to be all right," suggested the Leopard Woman, ranging alongside again.
"They didn't spear us, if that's what you mean. We can tell more about it to-morrow."
"What will happen to-morrow?"
"Yesterday and to-day finished the 'side' and ceremony. If to-morrow old Stick-in-the-mud drifts around quite on his own, like any other shenzi, and if the women come into camp freely, why then we're all right."
"Well, if the sultani stays away, and if you don't see any women at all, and if the men are painted and carry their shields--they will always carry their spears--that won't be so favourable." "In which case we fight?"
"No: I'll alter my diplomacy. There's a vast difference between mere unfriendliness and hostility. I think I can handle the former all right. I wish I knew a little more of their language. Swahili hardly fills the bill. I'll see what I can do with it in the next few days."
"You cannot learn a language in a few days!" she objected incredulously.
"Of course not. But I seem to know the general root idea of this patter. It isn't unlike the N'gruimi--same root likely--a bastard combination of Bantu-Masai stock."
She looked at him.
"You know," she told him slowly, "I am beginning to believe you savant. You make not much of it, but your knowledge of natives is extraordinary. You better than any other man know these people--their minds--how to influence them."
"I have a little knowledge of how to go at them, that's true. That's about the only claim I have to being savant, as you call it. My book knowledge and fact knowledge is equalled by many and exceeded by a great many more. But mere knowledge of facts doesn't get far in practice," he laughed. "Lord, these scientists! Helpless as children!" He sobered again. "There's one man has the science and the psychology both. He's a wonderful person. He knows the native objectively as I never will; and subjectively as well if not better. It is a rare combination. He's 'way over west of us somewhere now--in the Congo headwaters--a Bavarian, name Winkleman."
Had Kingozi been looking at her he would have seen the Leopard Woman's frame stiffen at the mention of this name. For a moment she said nothing.
"I know the name--he is great scientist," she managed to say.
"He is more than a scientist; he is a great humanist. No man has more insight, more sympathetic insight into the native mind. A man of vast influence."
They had reached Kingozi's camp under the great tree. He began to unbuckle his equipment.
"I'll just lay all this gorgeousness aside," said he apologetically.
But the Leopard Woman did not proceed to her own camp.
"I am interested," said she. "This Winkleman--he has vast influence? More than yourself?"
"That is hard to say," laughed Kingozi. "I should suppose so."
She caught at a hint of reluctant pride in his voice.
"Let us suppose," said she. "Let us suppose that you wanted one thing of natives, and Winkleman wanted another thing. Which would succeed?"
"Neither. We'd both be speared," replied Kingozi promptly. "Positive and negative poles, and all that sort of thing."
She puzzled over this a moment, trying to cast her question in a new form.
"But suppose this: suppose Winkleman had obtained his wish. Could you overcome his influence and what-you-call substitute your own?"
"No more than he could substitute his were the cases reversed. I've confidence enough in myself and knowledge enough of Winkleman to guarantee that."
"So it would depend on who got there first?" she persisted; "that is your opinion?"
"Why, yes. But what does it matter?"
"It amuses me to get knowledge. I admire your handle of these people. You must be patient and explain. It is all new to me, although I thought I had much experience."
"I am tired now. I go to the siesta."
Kingozi stared after her retreating figure. The direct form of her questions had stirred again suspicions that had become vague.
"What's she driving at?" he asked the uncomprehending Simba in English. He considered the question for some moments. "Don't even know her name or nationality," he confessed to himself after a while. "She's a queer one. I suppose I'll have to give her a man or so to help her back across the Thirst." He pondered again, "I might take her askaris. Country will feed them now. I'll have a business talk with her."
As the tone of voice sounded final to Simba he ventured his usual reply.
"Yes, suh!" said Simba.